To see the unseen
Zen of Flower Photography
Macro Photography with PiCamera
A friend introduced me to the Raspberry Pi single board computer and this opened up a world of possibilities. With the recent release of the HQ PiCamera, I decided to try it out for macrophotography. The camera is attached to a cheap industrial microscope lens as shown in the photo 1. The camera is connected to the Raspberry pi. The microscope is capable of up to 2.25x magnification.
Here is a selections of images from this set up:
Mock Ginseng (focus stacked)
Blue evergreen hydrangea (focus stacked)
Periwinkle (focus stacked)
Asparagus fern (focus stacked)
Solar Flare (base where the alocasia seed has fallen away)
Coleus flower (high-key, focus stacked)
Chick-pea (power food!) focus stacked
Pacman (peppercorn) focus stacked
Fresh chilli seeds
Sugar and salt (right)
Throat of a Episcia
Yellow weed flower
Bouganvillea (focus stacked)
Balsam (focus stacked)
Morning glory seedling in seed pod shell (focus stack)
The microscope shows up very interesting structures from a small selection of botanical specimens from my garden. Some images are quite surreal and unique. The image quality is a little soft due to the cheap lens in the industrial microscope. The depth of field is very shallow and focus stacking was used in some of the images
Thanks for looking.
Xinjiang - People and Culture
There is no middle way to describe Xinjiang... it is a place of contrasts, extremes and superlatives. It is the largest province in China and the place is huge. For example it takes 3 days to drive from Urumqi to Kashgar. The landscape is beautiful and almost ethereal in some areas and varied. You can be in a metropolis in one day, the alpine country the next and the 2nd largest desert in the world in another. The temperature variation reflects the varied landscapes, from blazing sunny hot to alpine snowy conditions.
The peak tourism period for northern Xinjiang is from June to October. Most (>95%) of the tourists are local Han Chinese). Many love to drive. We have meet tourists from Guangdong and Hunan who have driven more than 5000 km to get here. For many, they just drop by and stay a few days if they like the place and then move on without prior hotel bookings etc. We envy these freedom travellers who can arrive at the destination at the right moment i.e. during the peak fall colour period. As overseas visitors, we do not have this freedom; we have to pre-book and stay in designated tourist hotels (and pay more for them). Foreigners have to register with the local police where ever they stay. In most cases, the hotels will do this on their guests behalf. Travelling in Xinjiang is expensive. Accommodation during the peak season is very expensive; some below average 2-3* establishment will charge the equivalent of 5* prices in the city. Because of the large size, tourists have to travel long distances between sites. Entrance fees to the various tourist sites are also very high.
Sunrise at Hemu Village. There is no such thing as the claiming the best spot to put down you tripod. Someone else will come along later and plant theirs right in front of yours.
Domestic scene of a family enjoying a day in the sun. Their yurt close by sells local fabrics and souvenirs to tourists. Nalati Grassland.
Xinjiang is the fruit bowl of China. The region produces grapes, melons, figs, dates, peaches, persimmons, sunflower seeds, maize and etc. Fresh and dried fruit stalls are everywhere. Raising cattle, sheeps and horses are seen in the grassland areas.
Hami melons are cheap and sweet. "Here, try one"
Farmers selling their produces at the Sunday Kashgar Liverstock market.
Every kinds of dried fruits and nuts are available at the local bazaar.
Dried flowers for tea infusion. Note the QR-code for cashless payment which is used everywhere.
Shepherding 'fat bottom' sheep at 琼庫什台 village. These are mainly rear for meat.
Cattle grazing and a stray tourist
Some of the animal farmers are still nomadic, taking the animals to better pasture in winter. Tianshan Grand Canyon
Energy, Mining, Infrastructure
Wind farms are common. Five Coloured Beach
There are batteries of these coal powered power plants scattered everywhere. Some are near cities but others are just in the desert. I imagine the power generated is sent eastward. It is convenient to pollute the desert as there will be no residents around to complain about the bad air quality.
Open cut mine. Tianshan Grand Canyon
Did you know that the richest city in China (in term of per capita GDP) is Karamay in Xinjiang? The economy is based on black gold which oozes out from the ground.
The Guoziyuan Bridge. Extensive construction of roads and rail is seen in many parts of Xinjiang, probably related to the 'Belt and Road' initiative. High speed rail to Urumqi is currently under construction.
People, Food and Commerce
There are no better places for people watching than in the bazaars and markets. The bazaars in Kashgar and Urumqi had been in operation for over 2000 years as they are along the Ancient Silk Road.
The Grand Bazaar at Urumqi. This market has changed since we last visited here 7 years ago. For one thing, there is a strong metal barricade across the main square. One has to enter through police barricades at the sides and put your belongings through the Xray machines as in the airport. Once inside, you are free to move around without any hindrance. The security is annoying but at least one feels safe once inside. The markets are not the same as before; the stores are now more organised into orderly rows unlike the unruly haphazard arrangements in the past.
Store selling dried goods
Store selling musical instrument
Store keeper demonstrating his wares
Store keeper oblivious of her wares
Storekeepers gossiping about their wares
Store keeper pushing her wares and free ride for her son
Xinjiang people are passionate about their food. The main ethnic fare is rather meat rich, predominantly mutton/lamb.
Iconic 'Big Plate Chicken' which Xinjiang is famous for. Most ordered dish by tourists going to Xinjiang. This one was in a nice restaurant in Urumqi which cost RMB 98. The same dish in a small dinghy eatery out in the small town new Kanas was over RMB280! What a rip off.
Mutton soup/broth at the Kashgar Livestock Market
Eating at the street stall and taking chances with traveller's diarrhoea. The diner with the rosaries in her hand is asking for divine protection.
Bread similar to Nan
Making traditional Nan (nung). The baker sits above the oven, flattens the dough over an insulated pad, bends over and place the dough inside the oven. Once done, he fishes the bread out with the long metal rod.
Butcher at the Kashgar Livestock market. These are fat bottom sheep (see the lump of fat at the buttocks of the carcasses). Knifes are considered dangerous weapons in Xinjiang. All knifes in public are chained. You can only buy knifes at licensed shops with strict security precautions.
Axes are also chained
Lamb shanks and side of lambs
Hindquarter of a cow
Every Sunday for the last 2000 years, farmers bring their livestock here to trade.
There is some serious haggling and horse trading going on.
"Are you serious? Come on, these are worth much more!"
More haggling. Everyone, including the tourist listens intently in the conversation.
How much is that white horned sheep?
Time to cough up the dough
Locals like to wear hats. Each ethnic group have their own fashion accessory.
Checking the rear end of the purchase. Nothing worse than to find out the stud he bought is missing the nuts.
We went to Xinjiang primarily to see the wonderful and famed landscapes and we were not disappointed. The rich cultural diversity and history in this province were surprise bonuses. Travelling in Xinjiang is quite tiring because of the long road journeys (even though we did fly to Kashgar from Urumqi). The tight security everywhere especially for foreigners gives one a taste of what living in a police state feels like. Our group of 6 foreign tourists was closely monitored by the public security office whilst we were in Tianshan Grand Canyon. The security officers were concerned that we seem to have 'lost' 2 of our members who had decided to complete the 5 km hike to the top whilst the rest had returned to the bus alighting point. The positive side of the high security is the that we feel safe travelling around this land (unlike the current situation in HK). There are other inconveniences in Xinjiang such as suboptimal sanitary conditions in some public toilets and crowds at some of the major sites. Entrance ticket prices are high and some places such as the Nalati grassland and Burqin Ghost City appear to be over rated. Entry to the parking lot at Karakul lake for supposedly better view is a complete waste of money as the free roadside parking 300m away offer much better photogenic opportunities. After such a long and tiring (but productive) trip, we checked into a resort in Sanya for 3 days of R&R :).
Alishan National Forest Recreation Area
Alishan, the famed mountain in southern Taiwan is a place that I had wanted to visit for a long time even before the historic railway track was damaged by earthquake. The railway has been partially restored to Fengchihu from Chiayi. So with camera packed we set off to Alishan.
The train we took from Chiayi arriving at Fengchihu Station.
One of the must do activity at Alishan is to watch the sunrise. The best sunrise spot is at Mt Ogasawara Viewing platform. To get to the platform, visitors had to wake up at 4.30 am to catch the 5.30 am train from Alishan station to Zhushan station, a journey of 25 minutes. The viewing platform is about 15 minutes hike from Zhushan. As we stayed at Alishan for 2 nights, we did this early morning trip twice!
Sunrise on day 1. One bonus we did not expect this late in the year was the lingering red leaves on the maple trees.
Sunrise on day 2. We did not get the sea of cloud but the experiencing the beautiful of this mountain and watching the sunrise in this magical place was good enough. At least we get to see the sun rose on both morning.
Red leaves illuminated by the sunburst.
After the sunrise, we hiked down to Zhaoping through the Zhushan footpath passing cedars trees and ground cover carpeted with moss, lichen and lush green vegetation.
At Zhaoping, we hiked along a disused railway track to the Shuishan Giant Tree which is still alive after 2300 years...that is before Jesus or Mohammad were born.
The forest was so peaceful here that even the cat sat down and meditate; or maybe it was stalking a bird for dinner.
In the late afternoon, we strolled to the sister ponds and cedar grooves around there. The late afternoon sun pierced the canopy with shafts of light bathing the undergrowth with a soft warm glow. Parts of the ground around the tree roots are littered with autumn leaves.
We also visited the Xianglin Sacred Tree, the thousand year Cypress, the Tree Spirit Pagoda and the nearby Ciyun Temple where there were some exquisite Calla lillies which immediately reminded me of Marplethorpe's classic images which I tried to emulate.
We concluded our visit of the area after walking the Giant Tree Plank Trail where there are many giant trees of between 800 to 2000 years old. Yes Alishan is magical and the beauty of the place surpassed my expectation.
TMGP Christmas 2014 Exhibition
This is the first exhibition with contributions from all 8 members of the TMGP network of photographers, each with their unique styles and vision of the garden; both cultivated and natural. Nathan is a master of the 'cram' genre creating intimate views of flowers by immersing his lens in the midst of the flower bed. Glory, Glory is an excellent example of his up close and in your face technique. Bill is the veteran moderator of the finest Flora Gallery on the planet and one of the most experienced flora shooters on the planet. Most of his subjects like the Bird of Paradise flower (Hatchlings) in this exhibition are from his backyard, lovingly nurtured by his wife. Kai-Hung is a radiologist and award winning digital artist who has exhibited in many museums around the globe. KH is at the cutting edge of 3D imaging and reconstruction in both medicine and art. He pioneered the 'rainbow technique' and is at the forefront of 'convolution' art. His contribution 'Orchid' is a hybrid of photography and digital imaging using the rainbow rendering technique. Gigi produces some of the most artistic flora images using his favourite F22 sweet spot. The clarity and depth of his images are clearly demonstrated in 'Osteospermum' and 'Gazania'. Larry is most active in spring, summer and autumn but prefers to settle down on his armchair beside the fireplace with a good book in winter. However, he does not stop doing photography completely and his images of snowflakes are some of his best works. Indeed, Larry's 'Sunset at Canadice Lake' may be an expression of his wish to sit down and enjoy a good book. In contrast to Gigi, Ram's sweet spot is the wide open aperture. Using his steely arm (he does not use a tripod), Ram produces shallow DOF images so beautifully exemplified in 'Geranium' and 'Orange Poppy'. Pat has created some of the most beautiful flora portraits that rivaled those of Feinstein. However, his heart has now moved into the large scale garden of landscape photography. His landscape images are moody and elicit the sense of solitude in 'Point Imperial' and foreboding (made more so by the B&W conversion) in 'Barsoon'. Gary strives to see the unseen with his X-ray techniques; presenting the beauty in nature by parring down the photographic elements to their constituent lines and form in his minimalist B&W portrait 'Lonely as Cloud'. Using the rainbow technique pioneered by Kai-hung, the CT scan of the 'Amaryllis' is rendered with vivid colour befitting this majestic flower.
The exhibition will be held at JaaBar from 4 December till 3 Jan 2015. Proceeds from the exhibition will be donated to the Society for Relief of Disabled Children. Everyone is welcomed to attend the opening reception on 3 December 2014.
Think Pink Art Auction
The ThinkPink Art Charity event was successfully held on 24th Oct 2014 to raise fund for the Hong Kong Breast Cancer Foundation. We are happy to announce that our piece "Dancing on Lollipop" was sold at the auction.
Mystical Garden Exhibition
We will be holding an exhibition of all the images in the Mystical Garden gallery at the Grotto Fine Art Gallery in Central, Hong Kong on Jun 25, 2014 till Jul 19, 2014 in support of the Hong Kong Breast Cancer Foundation. The images will be printed on a variety of media including fine art, metallic paper, aluminium and acrylic sheets. There will also be a 3-D animation display at the exhibition.
Opening Reception: 5.30pm – 8:00pm, 25 June 2014
Meet the Artists: 11 am, 5 July 2014
Proceeds from the exhibition will be donated to the Hong Kong Breast Cancer Foundation.
The artists wish to acknowledge the generous support from Canossa Hospital, Mr Tom Chan Chi Yan and his staff at the Department of Diagnostic Imaging for scanning and Dr Carrison Tong for his professional set up of 3D display.
Pupa Peeping - Unraveling the mystery of Hawkmoth metamorphosis.
Of the 3 stages of metamorphosis, the pupal stage is most intriguing. In the larval stage, one can see the caterpillar moving around, chomping all the leaves and excreting fraps. You can also see the caterpillar growing in size from one instar to the next. The adult butterflies or moths are of course flying around, feeding or copulating to ensure the continuation of the species. Once the caterpillar turned into a chrysalis or cocoon, nothing much seems to be be happening on the outside. Does the caterpillar dissolves into a soup and transform itself into a butterfly or moth as popular myth has it? So what is really going on inside a pupa? To find out how a caterpillar turns into an adult, one needs to be able to peep inside the pupa without disrupting the metamorphosis process....yes you guessed it, one needs to have X-ray vision! Since I am already familiar with the use of X-ray in my floragraphy work, I applied these techniques on a pupa of a Psilogramma menephron (special thanks to lepidopterist David Mohn who donated this pupa for the advancement of science).
Serial X-ray of P. menephron pupa at day 9,12,14,16 and adult (from left to right). Top row - anteroposterior view, bottom row - lateral views. Sorry no caterpillar soup here.
Okay, now we can peep inside a pupa but what are those structures and what does it mean? I didn't know so its time to find out. I first contacted Roger, who is the moth expert in HK and he referred me to Ian, the Hawkmoth expert at the Natural History Museum in London who refer me to his colleague Thomas, who together with his colleagues, recently published the development of the Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) butterfly using microCT. Everyone seem to say 'Well, this is very interesting but we have not seen this before'. My colleague KH and I then hit the books and trawled the net for whatever we can find on the anatomy and development of moth pupa. There is actually a dearth of information on moth pupa development but after studying development in other insects including cockroaches, we now have a reasonably good idea what is happening.
Not content with just plain X-ray, I decided to a CT scan of the pupa and enlist the help of my colleague and digital artist Dr KH Fung (if you are curious about KH, click here to read a recent spread about him in Slate Magazine). Below is a sample of our CT images:
To take this to the next level, KH constructed 4D cine fly through where the camera dives into the pupa to take a look of the developing respiratory system. Here is an example of a view from within the pupa.Fasten your seat belt before you click the links below. Enjoy the ride...
The above is just the beginning and there is still a lot to discover. Oh just in case you were wondering what the pupa and caterpillar look like in the visible light spectrum:
My pursuit of photography for charity has led me on unexpected paths. For the past 2 years, the Hong Kong Gardening Society has used my images for their calendar with a stipulation that it contributes the licensing fee to charity. The HKGS decided to promote the study of biodiversity to school children and has recently set up a Butterfly garden at the Glenealy School. During the opening, I had the good fortune to meet up with Lepdopterist David L Mohn who is teaching me how to raise butterflies. Our first outing was to Tai Tam Country Park where we found several caterpillars. This is a chronicle of the first two caterpillars under my care.
Over the next month, I watch the caterpillars grew, shed their skin, pupated and emerged as a butterfly and moth almost at the same time.
Apart from the obvious of learning about how to care for caterpillars and how they developed into butterflies and moths through metamorphosis, I also discovered an inner transformation in myself. A nature photographer should not just be a casual observer of the natural world but should be an active participant in the process. However, one should be mindful not to interfere with the process and observe the codes of conduct on collection of butterflies and moths of the Leptopterist society. I did photograph both the butterfly and moth above in a soft tent but they were free to fly away after the process. Both stayed the night before venturing out into the wide world the next morning. I placed the moth in an opened cup on the terrace in the morning to sun itself. I did see a couple of sparrows flew down to check it out. I do not know how this pair will fair and feel a tinge of sadness by their departure which I realised is just a touch of attachment on my part. I am sure that they have no reciprocal feeling towards me. There is so much danger in the wide world but Nature is just like that.
Botanic Art using CT scan and reconstruction.
Having used the mammography machine to reveal the inner details and lines in flowers (see Floragraphy gallery on this site), it is natural to explore the use of other modes of medical imaging to create botanic digital art. I have teamed up with my colleague and award winning digital artist and radiologist Dr Kai-hung Fung for this project. Incidentally if you google Kai-hung Fung, you will see his stunning pieces using CT scans of the human body and other biological specimens. The scans are reconstructed into 3D objects which can be manipulated and viewed from any angle including projections from within the flower of stem.
A view from inside the teasel (Dipsacus fullonum) seedhead looking up towards the tip of the seedhead. The blue core is the central dense core. The overall effect is what I imaging travelling through a worm hole may look like.
Another interesting feature of this imaging technique is the ability to adjust the transparency of the outer layer to reveal underlying structures which are not seen with visible light imaging as shown below.
Calla lilies with visible spadices.
The transparency is even more evident in the scan of the Leucadendron seedhead.
Crystal shards. If you are curious to see what this looks like in visible light photography, please visit this post on Nature Photographers Network.
The color rendering here is done using the density value for each voxel including the use of the rainbow technique algorithm. For more images of CT scan imaging please go to my Botanic Art gallery on this site.
The potentials of the technique are not limited to 2D images shown above. The same scan can be reconstructed and viewed on 3D monitors and 4D images where one can view the images as the 'camera' fly through and into the subjects.
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Recent PostsZen of Flower Photography Macro Photography with PiCamera Xinjiang - People and Culture Alishan, Taiwan TMGP Christmas 2014 Exhibition Think Pink Art Auction Mystical Garden Exhibition Pupa Peeping - Unraveling the mystery of Hawkmoth metamorphosis. Metamorphosis Botanic Art using CT scan and reconstruction.
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